ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON 10/09/09
NASA recently discovered water on the moon for the first time again. Well, water-ish stuff anyway. NASA, as everyone knows, is coo-coo for coacoa puffs about Water. Throw this on the pile of stuff that NASA is obsessed over that no one else in the entire human species gives a crap about, like extraterrestrial life.
NASA has a history of misjudging public opinion. They want to be heroic, they want to be smart, they want be all Samantha Carter cool, but in the end they're just so damn boring.
The reason for their obsession is pretty straightforward and understandable, at least on the surface: Water is (A) really useful and (B) really heavy. It weighs 8.35 pounds per gallon. The space shuttle costs *about* a billion dollars to launch, and can carry a maximum of 46,710 pounds. That comes to @21,408 per pound. At that price, a gallon of water costs $178,762 per gallon! That's 18,397 dollars and fifty cents for just one can of coke taken to orbit! (including the weight of the can, of course)
Your average person needs about 3/4ths of a gallon of water (or it's equivalent) per day to stay healthy. Obviously, that's the kind of thing that's really going to add up really quickly, even if you've got super-efficient recycling technology (We don't) and people of the future will happily be drinking their own piss over and over and over again. (Which, though the thought might appeal to some evangelical environmentalists, isn't really the sort of thing you can use to give yourself a great image: "NASA! Proudly drinking our own Piss for Progress!" or "NASA: Disturbingly Breaking Personal Health Taboos Since 1962") And *that's* just to get it in to orbit!
Hauling the water to the moon or other planets is vastly, vastly more expensive. Back during the Apollo program in 1970, it cost about $18,397 per pound to put stuff on the moon. Allowing for inflation, that's $85,884 dollars per pound today, or $717,131 to the gallon of water!
Of course that's assuming we had both Saturn V rockets, and grizzled Korean War vets to fly them. We don't. If NASA attempted to do it now, it would doubtless be vastly more expensive. A factor of six seems reasonable, based soley on the fact that a Shuttle costs twice as much to operate as a Saturn V, but can only carry 1/3rd the payload. As I've said time and time again: The thing's a turd.
My point being that given the expence involved, Moonbases and Marsbases become unfeasable, unless you can find some water in situ, and use that. Hence, NASA's crazy love of the stuff, and their mistaken assumption that we, in the public, share their crazy love.
Now, despite NASA's misguidedly optomistic PR to the contrary, there's never really been any debate about the presence of Water on Mars. There's obvious signs of it all over the place, there's occasional spectrograph signatures (Of varying degrees of reliability), there's great big icepacks at the poles which are obviously CO2, but which very likely hide big reserves of H20 beneath.
The game NASA is playing here is similar to an easter egg hunt where you pretend to be surprised when little kids find something you knew was there all along. Even though they knew - or strongly suspected - that there was Water on Mars, they pretend that it's kind of dicey, then act surprised when they find signs of it, then declare victory and hope this will encourage people to want to go to Mars, or rather, they hope that it will encourage people to spend a hundred billion dollars to send some mathematicians and over-achieving pilots to Mars.
Not really working so well, is it?
Because while that stuff might work on little kids at an Easter Egg Hunt, it doesn't work so well on the surly teens forced to come along by their parents, and we are basically a nation of surly teens nowadays, aren't we? Really? Admit it.
Water on the moon is a bit different, however. It really shouldn't exist, and certainly not in big quantities if it does, and being so near by it's really useful for a number of practical purposes. Firstly, you can chop the budget of any future Moonbase crew's water costs to pretty much zero. Secondly, you can easily crack water in to Hydrogen and Oxygen which is - ta dah - rocket fuel! You can then use the moon to send people, explorers, and maybe colonists elsewhere in the solar system. Which, perhaps, we might have done by now, had we not abandoned the moon 38 years ago. (Thank you very much, Senator William Proxmire).
The details are all here in this story by Andrea Thompson (I asked, she's not *That* Andrea Thompson), http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/090923-moon-water-discovery.html though it's not exactly quite water, it's close enough for our purposes.
Well, it would be if NASA actually had any purposes, which it generally doesn't. So I guess I should say "There's water here for any purposes that might arise." Please let them be grand ones.